Americans, collectively, appear to be in a deeper funk about the future than Beto O’Rourke was after he lost his Senate race. When adults are asked to think about what the United States will be like in 2050, they see the country declining in stature on the world stage, a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots and growing political polarization. They think health care will be less affordable, public education will be lower quality and retiring will be harder.

Sixteen years ago on March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. After a months-long propaganda campaign the likes of which the country had never seen, a majority of Americans supported going to war. After all, the Bush administration had told them over and over that it was an act of self-preservation, for if we didn’t invade, then Saddam Hussein, who probably had something to do with 9/11, would attack us with his fearsome arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Like the rest of you, Wacoans love Joanna and Chip Gaines’ HGTV show, magazine, housewares, books and (most of all?) biscuits and gravy. No one objected when they turned giant silos from eyesores into religious icons. Only a few protested when they recently bought “The Castle” — namesake home of Waco’s most esteemed neighborhood, Castle Heights. But murmurs are starting now that they’ve purchased the 151-year-old Fort House, formerly managed by the Historic Waco Foundation.

The evening the Trib newsroom learned Waco Independent School District Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson had been arrested and briefly incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession during an unrelated traffic stop in rural Robertson County, a colleague asked if I thought this inspiring, charismatic educator and leader should keep his job or depart.

Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, most state legislators consistently demonstrate dedication to governmental transparency, something informed taxpayers should appreciate and celebrate. To that end, let’s cheer the Texas House of Representatives for unanimously approving a bill last week requiring governmental entities to disclose certain information about concerts, parades and other entertainment when funded wholly or partially with taxpayer money.

The Waco Independent School District board of trustees is no doubt as conflicted over the arrest and brief incarceration of Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson as our community is. After hearing public comments from individuals on both sides of the debate — some pleading for punitive measures but not expulsion, a couple insisting that no other option exists beyond firing the superintendent — trustees deliberated more than four hours Tuesday before breaking to continue later.

Every week mail stacks up at my desk from prisoners seeking help in addressing their sentences or petitioning for clemency. Their stories are not told (except by the students in my clinic at St. Thomas Law School for those few we can represent). Instead, when we read about sentencing it’s usually related to the rich and famous. One of those cases is in the news now, as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced twice in the course of one week. On March 7, Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced him to 47 months imprisonment; then on March 13 Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the D.C. District Court added an additional 43 months for separate (but related) charges filed there. There is a lot to learn from the Manafort case, both about him and about the people who write to me from humbler positions.

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

In their March 22 column here, fellow Trib contributors David Gallagher and David Schleicher described the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in apocalyptic terms, variously referring to it as a “Category 5 storm,” a “constitutional crisis” and even possibly as “a second civil war” or “the sunset of democracy.” M.C. Hammer was quoted at length.

Six months ago, an American patriot and friend of Israel, retired Army General Vernon Lewis, invited Alice and me to accompany him as his guests on a 10-day trip to Israel. With our 30 new friends, including the former U.S. military commander in Iraq, several billionaires, a former NFL football player (Minnesota Vikings) and an immigrant family from Ecuador, we landed on March 1 at Ben-Gurion Airport, visited the haunting Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum) in Jerusalem, then headed north to settle into our quarters at a Christian retreat in Tiberias overlooking the beautiful shores of the Sea of Galilee.